| Carlos Moya makes a backhand return against Albert Costa in Shanghai Friday. Moya won 7-6, 3-6, 6-4. (AFP)
Shanghai: Carlos Moya ended the Masters Cup hopes of compatriot Albert Costa with a 7-6, 3-6, 6-4 victory on Friday, silencing whispers of a Spanish conspiracy.
If Moya, already through to the semi-finals, had lost to French Open champion Costa in the Red Group round robin match, world number one Lleyton Hewitt would have been eliminated and the two Spaniards would have advanced to the last four of the $3.7 million tournament.
But now Moya and Hewitt both progress to the last four. Hewitt will face Swiss Roger Federer for a place in the final, while Moya meets fellow countryman Juan Carlos Ferrero who beat Czech Jiri Novak 7-5, 6-3.
“I am a professional, I had to do my job,” Moya said, answering suggestions that he and Costa could have kept Hewitt out.
“I tried to be honest to myself, honest to the sport... honest to tennis.”
Retaining the title he won in Sydney 12 months ago would be the perfect end to a season in which Hewitt secured his first Wimbledon crown and kept the world number one ranking for the whole calendar year. He is certainly not ruling himself out.
After collecting his world number one trophy on Thursday night the jubilant Australian said: “It is out of my hands...but if I get the opportunity to play on Saturday you never know what will happen.
“I certainly wouldn’t write myself out of it.”
Moya’s victory gave Hewitt a lifeline back into the tournament.
Earlier in the week, Hewitt had called for no collusion between the Spaniards who could have conspired to knock out the Australian, but he need not have worried as Moya took to the court in determined mood.
He broke through for the first time in the sixth game, unleashing a sharply-angled forehand off the back foot that veered away from Costa’s lunge and gave Moya a 4-2 lead.
His pale blue shirt gradually darkening under the strain of his exertions, Moya dominated the net against his countryman — at 27 the elder by a year — but Costa continued pounding heavy groundstrokes back at his Davis Cup teammate.
Costa held 15-40 on his opponent’s serve but Moya saved both break points with a swinging serve and a delicate drop shot.
Two points later Costa had another, and when Moya tried a drop shot he chased it down, flicked it back and took the game when his opponent pushed the resulting volley wide.
Riding his momentum Costa held to square the set 4-4 and put the onus back on Moya, himself a former French Open champion and world number one.
Costa’s timing was spot on as he whipped groundstrokes deep into the court but Moya held to edge 5-4 ahead. Costa held on, saving one set point with an ace. Again Moya moved ahead, this time 6-5 and the pressure mounted on Costa.
He survived to force a tiebreak and even held a set point of his own but Moya proved strong, rifling a forehand on to the line to bring up his third set point and clinching it with a service winner.
Costa was not finished, however, countering with some pinpoint rallying. He broke the rapidly tiring Moya in the second and eighth games and took the set 6-3 despite dropping serve himself.
Both men dug in at the beginning of the decider.
In the sixth game, Costa had to hang on by his fingernails and fight off three break points before holding for 3-3. It was Moya’s turn to sweat in the next game when he needed an ace and a flashing forehand winner to stave off two break points and nose 4-3 ahead.
Costa, who has struggled with a lower back injury in recent weeks, called the trainer midway through the next game and received on-court massage as Moya sat on a linesman’s chair at the back of the court.
Moya looked shattered but mustered one final effort three games later by racking up two match points and converting on the first with a lunging backhand volley.
This week has shown glimpses of the form that helped Moya to the French Open in 1998 and made him world number one in the wake of that.
Moya has bags of skill and natural ability and appears to have put his physical frailties behind him. He is certainly the form player of the tournament so far.
He will be up against a dogged baseliner in Ferrero, who has been found wanting on the biggest stages. A semi-finalist at the Masters last year, Ferrero will be looking to go one better.